Nigerian actor gets months in jail for gay offence

 a gay couple
This picture taken on January 12, 2012 shows a gay couple, who wish to remain anonymous, who fled persecution in their home country due to their sexual-orientation, at an interview in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. A little-known Nigeria actor has been sentenced to jail for a gay offence on a continent where attitudes towards homosexuality remain conservative.   PHOTO | FILE

A Nigerian actor has been sentenced to three months in prison after allegedly admitting to having sex with a man, deemed an “unnatural offence” under Nigerian law, a prosecutor said yesterday.

Bestwood Chukwuemeka, who is not well known but has reportedly acted in movies produced by Nigeria’s prolific Nollywood film industry, was sentenced this week in a magistrates court in the capital Abuja.

According to police prosecutor Mohammed Umar, Chukwuemeka had a sexual encounter with a friend’s brother in August at a private home and was later arrested after the other party informed the police.

He initially denied the charge.

"The case came up for hearing on Monday and the accused changed his plea and pleaded guilty to the offence after the witness (complainant) had testified,” Mr Umar told news agency AFP.

"The accused said he was intoxicated by alcohol. The accused was sentenced to three months imprisonment without an option of fine on Monday after a summary trial.”

It was unclear if he had a lawyer and a representative of Nigeria’s actors’ guild could not immediately be reached for comment.

Chukwuemeka is not a well known performer, but was identified as an actor by the prosecutor.

Prosecutions related to homosexuality are rare in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.

Last year, Nigeria’s Senate approved a bill that would harshly crack down on gay rights, including outlawing gay marriage and banning public displays of affection between homosexual couples. The bill has since stalled.

The crime of “unnatural offence” has existed in Nigeria’s penal act since independence in 1960 and is based on colonial era laws, said human rights lawyer Jiti Ogunye.

“It is rare for someone to be charged with an unnatural offence. It is not common... These are things that people do in the privacy of their homes,” he explained.

The offence covers sexual contact with animals, homosexual relations and certain heterosexual acts.

He explained that the crime of unnatural offence has previously emerged amid political disputes, including when an individual has tried to damage their rival’s reputation.

Homosexual acts are illegal in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, with rights groups and Western nations repeatedly calling for such laws to be scrapped.

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